May 31, 2008

Our "World Food" Evenings

The last two World Food evenings have definitely deviated from the original theme.
But in a good way.

Last month's theme was a Manhattan Cocktail Party and this month's was a very lively Evening at the Races, complete with genuine horse racing.
Not exactly along the same lines as the past cuisine themes which have included Southeast Asian, Spanish, Mexican, Brazilian, Italian, Turkish, BBQ and South African.
We'll be back on track next month with an Indonesian Food Feast.

The Manhattan Cocktail Party involved platters and plates of finger food and a half a dozen bottles of spirits and mixers. I made tangy Lemon Drops, which, being seriously cocktail deprived in the south of France, I thoroughly enjoyed. Other refreshment options included Mojitos, Caiphrinias and Margaritas.

The eight of us crammed ourselves into our tiny living room (this was a cocktail party, no fair sitting politely around a table) and grazed our way through an array of food that was amusing, diverse and delicious. There were Italian meats and cheeses, Chinese scallion pancakes with spicy dipping sauce, smoked salmon and crème fraîche on blinis, devils on horseback, very retro pigs in a blanket, a tomato tart and little roasted thyme potatoes to dip in warm Camembert.

May's An Evening at the Races theme was hatched after our friends bought Escalado, an English table horse racing game from the 1920's. We all brought a dish that related to famous horse races around the world; the Kentucky Derby, le Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, the Melbourne Cup, the Grand National and the Dubai World Cup.

they're in the gate...

and they're off!

We started the evening with a glass of Pimms Cup and some little cucumber and smoked salmon finger sandwiches, crusts cut off of course. After the betting system was sorted out, we played a few games, and an embarrassing amount of yelling and screaming ensued. Just when our voices were becoming hoarse (no pun intended), we took a break and sat down to dinner which included fried chicken, horse meat kabobs (I politely declined) and couscous.

Pimm's Cup

More racing, more screaming, and more money being won and lost. Mind you, the maximum we were allowed to bet was 1€, so not much could be won and lost!

Dessert was one of my favorites, Tarte Tatin with chantilly, with a glass of local Muscat St. Jean de Minervois to wash it down.

So, back to the games. This is where it got very silly. We started racing objects around the kitchen against the horses and against each other.
It was hilarious!

Wallace and Gromit, a coin and a donkey compete with the horses - the coin won

a corkscrew, a pencil, a tampon, a cork, a coin and an alligator nutcracker compete - the heaviest object, the alligator, won!

I didn't take photos of all the races, but we continued to come up with imaginative combinations.

Yes, this is how we manage to amuse ourselves out here in the country in the south of France! Pin It

Photo du Jour - Olive Tree in Spring

Our olive tree is loaded with tiny flowers this year. Pin It

May 30, 2008

Photo du Jour - Colorful Camels

On Tuesday we had the massive sirocco that dropped sand from the Sahara desert all over the place. Then on Wednesday I went to Béziers and there were a dozen camels in one of the squares.
Did the storm drop them too?

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May 29, 2008

Photo du Jour

One of my favorite storefronts in Béziers. Pin It

May 28, 2008

Photos du Jour - From Brittany

A friend traveled through Brittany a couple of weeks ago and shared these photos with me. I love seeing other regions of France, even through someone else's eyes.

Looks like a beautiful place!

oozing contentment
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May 27, 2008

La Fête du Fromage - Tome de Brebis Sarde

At first I thought this week's cheese might be cheating a bit.
I bought it in France, but the name had me thinking that it was made in Sardinia. But it was so mouth-watering good that I decided to go ahead and include it in la Fête anyway.

Luckily for me, no cheating was required. After tirelessly researching this cheese for hours (which of course, I am happy to do for readers of la Fête du Fromage) I discovered that the cheese isn't made in Sardinia, rather from the milk of a breed of sheep called the Sarda - or Sarde in French. Here's a sweet photo of a herd.

I can now present this Tome de Brebis Sarde as a bonafide, genuine French cheese. And a good one, at that.

More exhaustive research regarding the producers or origins of Tome de Brebis Sarde has revealed absolutely nothing. Though, I think it could be either Corsican or from the Auvergne. I purchased this nice piece from a local cheese vendor at the Olonzac market a few weeks ago and was going to ask her where it comes from when I went in for some shopping this morning, but the market got rained out.
Has anyone else ever tried it?

So, on to the taste...
It had mildly sharp, sweet and tangy flavors that reminded me a bit of Pecorino from Italy. (There is a Pecorino Sardo, an Italian cheese that is produced only the island of Sardinia) The texture was semi-firm and chewy and it had a sweet, light aroma. We both loved the toothsome texture and the rich flavor of this Tome and thought it was absolutely perfect with a glass of local red wine. I'll be purchasing more of this one in the future!

Next week I plan on having some more information about its origins.
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Thunderstorm Morning

We've been getting some much needed rain in the last week. Most of it in short-lived bursts of heavy rain.

This morning two thunderstorms rolled through before I even woke up at 7:45.
I took this photo at 9:30 am. It was so dark in the house that we had to turn the lights back on and the camera needed the flash to capture the foreboding, stormy sky.

Eerie color!

Tico, our little chihuahua, is scared merde-less when there are thunderstorms. He shivers and hides under blankets or under the bed.

Surprisingly the power hasn't gone out (I shouldn't jinx it by saying's still early in the day) but the computer and TV satellite have been blipping off and on.

No Tuesday morning market for me. The vendors probably didn't bother showing up with this wild weather! Pin It

Photo du Jour

Spent two hours on Sunday making fried chicken for the first time. The legs were perfect - crispy and juicy - but the thighs came out slightly undercooked.

We all have our learning curves. Pin It

May 26, 2008

Photo du Jour -

Après la pluie.
When it rains really hard here, this is the dramatic result. Pin It

May 25, 2008

I Don't Know How Else To Describe It

This morning I had a moment of pure...
I hesitate to use the word because it sounds so frothy...


I just don't know how else to describe it.

The moment was a divine combination of walking through the vineyards with the soundtrack to Amélie playing on my i-pod when unexpectedly, warm rain started falling, soaking me to the bone.
I kept on walking.
It felt so wonderful. Pin It

Photo du Jour

An abandoned business with fading shutters. Pin It

May 24, 2008

Life Is Just A...

Thursday night I was handed a large opaque bag by some friends who have recently bought a plot of land with many, many varieties of fruit trees.
I peered inside to find it full of griottes - tart little cherries.
The second fabulous food gift this week!

A third of them is being made into Sour Cherry Liqueur which we'll be enjoying by Christmas.
A third will become Confiture de Griottes.
A third will be made into Griotte Cherries with Bay Leaf from Michel Troisgros.

200g griotte cherries (7 1/2 oz)
12.5cl white vinegar at 8° (1/2 cup)
10cl water (1/3 cup)
100g sugar (4 oz)
20 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves

Prepare the sweet-and-sour mixture: in a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water and sugar and bring to a boil. Skim carefully and set aside in a warm place.

Rinse the cherries in cold water and dry them in a tea towel. Trim the stems halfway down. Prick each cherry a few times with a needle so that the juice soaks through.

As you prepare the cherries, place them in a jar. Add the crushed peppercorns and bay leaves, then pour the boiling liquid over the cherries to cover them completely.

When they have cooled, close the jar and set aside in a cold place for a few days before opening.

. Pin It

Photo du Jour

Shades of blue and grey yesterday in Grau d'Agde, where the river Hérault meets the Mediterranean Sea. Pin It

May 23, 2008

(Almost) Too Pretty To Eat

These cute, little macaroon chocolates were an unexpected treat from friends who came around for lunch on Tuesday.
My husband was ready to dive into the box later that afternoon but I diverted his attention (with my overwhelming charm and impressive willpower) and tucked them away until later. We were already full from our meal and I wanted to wait until we could really enjoy them.

And I was itching to take some photos, of course.

too pretty to eat

Tuesday slid into Wednesday which somehow became Thursday and the box still sat there, pristine and unopened.
So here it is, Friday already.

My poor husband has ogled the chocolates for three days without one word of complaint. I decided it was time to put him out of his misery and take the photos I wanted so we could finally gobble them up taste one or two.

finally open!

in a matter of minutes, three disappeared

They were worth the wait! Pin It

Photo du Jour

Walking on the road to nowhere* in the garrigue.

*I was thinking of the Talking Head's song when I wrote this. Pin It

May 22, 2008

Photo du Jour

Our first lettuce this spring.

At least I can grow something! Pin It

May 21, 2008

Photo du Jour

What a difference from two months ago. Pin It

May 20, 2008

La Fête du Fromage - Pigouille des Charentes

Pigouille des Charentes. What an intriguing name.

I'm familiar with the "des Charentes" part, meaning from the idyllic Charentes region of central France.
It was that first word - pig ou, huh? - that I'd never seen before. So of course I had to try it for la Fête du Fromage!
When I pointed at the cheese and read the name out loud to the fromagère, she had to correct my pronunciation. Twice. (I hate it when my French accent fails me)

Just so everyone is clear, it is pronounced:
Pig - ew - wee Day Shar -ont

Now that you know how to say it, you might want to know the origin of the name. A pigouille is the long paddle that a boatman uses to navigate a small canal barge - a yole - along the narrow canals of the Marais Poitevin, also called the "Green Venice" of western France.

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Photo du Jour - la Boulangerie

Our favorite Boulangerie who make amazing pain au raisin, fantastic flûtes (a long, soft baguette), crunchy campailettes (a rustic baguette) and delicious pizza and quiches. Pin It

May 19, 2008

Photo du Jour - Artichokes

Artichokes are in season and they're everywhere!

They're available in a variety of shapes and sizes - little artichauts violets, big round globe artichokes and a medium sized variety that we have growing in the garden. Pin It

May 18, 2008

Photo du Jour - La Maison Bleue

My favorite blue house. Pin It

May 17, 2008

My Next Birthday And A Fun-Filled Afternoon

Telling you this little story means I'm revealing my age, something I'm told a proper French woman should never do.
What the hell, I'm not French yet...

My 40th birthday is coming up this February. (feeling myself break out in a cold sweat - I know it shouldn't bother me, but it does - more about my emotions surrounding my upcoming birthday later)

Where was I? Oh yes.
Turning 40 for a woman usually means that exciting event we all look forward to - The Mammogram.

Wednesday afternoon I had the pleasure of spending two hours in a clinic, waiting to meet Sophie. And no, that's not the name of the doctor.
This lovely machine pictured above is Sophie. How do I know that it's name is Sophie, you might ask? Because "her" name is written in green across the top of the machine. Seriously. Just enlarge the photo and you'll see.

So I have to ask...
Why give it a female name? Is that supposed to make me feel better while "she" is smashing my boobs between "her" two compressor plates?

Just wondering...

A side note: It was painless and absolutely necessary. Ladies, don't put off having your mammograms! Pin It

Photo du Jour - To The Tower!

A rooftop view of Ventenac en Minervois on a dark and stormy evening. Pin It

May 16, 2008

Photo du Jour - Coquelicot

Red - vibrant and bold - everywhere I look! Pin It

May 15, 2008

Photo du Jour

No words necessary. Pin It

May 14, 2008

Photo du Jour - Grapes

Tiny little grapes.
Amazing that in less than six months they'll have been picked and crushed. Pin It

May 13, 2008

La Fête du Fromage - Bergues

For the last several weeks I've tasted some cheeses that have completely blown me away by their unique, aromatic and amazing flavors. Things were a little different this week...

Let me introduce you to Bergues.
Bergues is an unpasteurized, lower in fat (only around 20% versus the normal 40-60%), cow's milk cheese that is repeatedly washed in beer (a good thing, I thought) while it matures, producing a rich aroma. It has been made for centuries in the town of Bergues, which is only a few miles from the Belgian border, in an area referred to as French Flanders.

And it tastes like....


Is. Has. No. Flavor.
None. Nada.

We even let it sit out to mature a bit, thinking the flavor would develop into something.
Nope. Not a chance.

Now that you've been introduced to Bergues, you can promptly forget its name. Try not to be introduced again.
And if someday you are faced with Bergues, pretend you are allergic to cheese. Or pretend you are lactose intolerant. Whatever you have to do not to eat this stuff.

Want a wine pairing idea? No, you don't. Because you don't ever need to bother tasting it.

If there are any Bergues lovers out there, I'd like to know. Because really, how can you enjoy eating air disguised as cheese? Pin It

Photo du Jour

My last morning dog sitting was a gorgeous one.

Now if I can just keep up the habit of walking every morning.... Pin It

May 12, 2008

Photo du Jour - L'Ancien Café

L'ancien Café Lauriol in our village. Pin It

May 11, 2008

Saturday Dinner

After a marathon cleaning session Saturday morning (boring boring boring - but there was so much dog and cat hair everywhere it had to be done), I spent the afternoon doing what I love most - cooking!

Dinner for my husband and me and a friend:
- arugula, sliced red onion and tomato salad
- an "updated" Coq au Vin made with white wine
- dark chocolate brownies with vanilla and cinnamon laced whipped cream

Definitely a laid back, Saturday night dinner menu!

The "updated" Coq au Vin recipe is one that I've made several times and I think it is fabulous! Really fresh and full of bright, tangy flavors.
It's from an article in last April's Food and Wine magazine entitled Updating Coq au Vin. I've played with all of the recipes and think they're versatile and delicious.

Zesty Braised Chicken With Lemon and Capers
serves 4
  • 8 bone-in chicken thighs with skin (6 ounces each)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • All-purpose flour, for dusting
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 large peeled garlic cloves
  • 1 1/2 cups Sauvignon Blanc
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • Four 1-inch strips of lemon zest
  • 4 thyme sprigs
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained
  • 1 bay leaf
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dust with flour. In a large ovenproof skillet, melt the butter in the oil. Add the chicken, skin side down, and cook over high heat, turning once, until browned, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a large plate and pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat.
  2. Add the garlic to the skillet and cook over low heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and boil over high heat until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the stock, lemon zest, thyme, capers and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Return the chicken to the pan, skin side up. Transfer the skillet to the oven and braise for about 45 minutes, until the meat is tender.
  3. Return the skillet to the stove and boil until the sauce is slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Discard the thyme, bay leaf and lemon zest, if desired, before serving.
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Photo du Jour - Canal du Midi

Summer season slowly starting on the Canal du Midi. Pin It

May 10, 2008

Photo du Jour

Those of you who know me know that I'm a bit of a frustrated entomologist.
When I see interesting looking insects, I grab my camera and try to get a shot. I did get a great photo of a dragonfly last summer.
This beauty was on our house the other day. Wish I could have captured the bright orange and vivid red underside of its wings.

I didn't take a photo of the tick I pulled out of my leg the other day. *shudder* It didn't deserve the recognition. Pin It

May 9, 2008

Photo du Jour

Little windows in Albi. Pin It

May 8, 2008

Photo du Jour - Morning

It's scenes like this that remind me why I love living in the country. Pin It

May 7, 2008

Brownie Points

cesseras up the hill

Living in a small village of 400 people in the south of France has its advantages and its disadvantages.

  • everyone, and I mean everyone, knows your business
  • your neighbors always know if you're home or not - no hiding!
  • the épicerie owner knows if you have guests arriving by how many baguettes you buy on any given day
  • very slow tractor traffic
  • can feel like a ghost town in the winter when everyone is inside, shutters closed, huddled next to the fire
  • don't expect to run a quick errand to la Poste on the other side of the village without having to stop and talk to at least three people - a normal, 10 minute trip will take at least 30 minutes, so plan accordingly

  • the owner of the épicerie will let you take things home without paying because she knows where to find you
  • your neighbor the winemaker will deliver a case of his excellent Muscat Sec or Viognier right to your door
  • concerts at the church are a 30 second walk down the street
  • your neighbors (who know that you suck at gardening and take pity on you ) will leave lettuce, eggplant, green beans, fava beans, zucchini, cherries, apricots and tomatoes hanging in bags from your front door
  • the Poissonerie van on Thursday, the Poultry van on Wednesday, the Fruit and Vegetable van on Monday, the Pizza van Friday and Saturday nights
  • the mailman will deliver mail addressed to "Aunt Jenny, Our Village, FRANCE" - they must figure since it came from America, it must belong to les Américains
  • delivery drivers can pretty much ask anyone who we are and where to find our house
  • you can always have a quick snack of figs, which grow everywhere
  • your Mayor writes you a very nice, complimentary letter to the powers that be, in support of you becoming a French Citizen

Last time I was dealing with bureaucracy problems, I took Lemon Bars as a 'thank you' to the Mairie. I think this time some gooey, dark chocolate Brownies are in order.
Our Mayor deserves a giant Merci.

It's good to live in a small village.

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Photo du Jour

Secret Spiral Staircase.

Taken in Albi. Pin It

May 6, 2008

La Fête du Fromage - Camembert Brebis

"A camembert not made out of raw milk is like making love without sex."

Hear! Hear!
I read this line in an article about Camembert just this morning!

While this week's cheese is not an AOC Camembert from Normandy, it is a Camembert fermier, more specifically, a Camembert Brebis from the Corbières.
This is the third cheese I've tasted from the dynamic duo, Chantal and Jean-Gabriel Donnet, the owners of the sole sheep farm in the Corbières. In January we tasted their luscious Brebis des Corbières and in early April we tasted their elegant Tomette des Corbières.

Mme. Donnet was at the market in Carcassonne last week, so I had the honor of meeting and chatting with the friendly Fromagère, in addition to tasting several more of her cheeses.
She was very kind, patient with my questions, and when I told her about my Fête du Fromage project, she seemed pleased that she'd been included.

Mme. Chantal Donnet slicing a piece of Tomme de Brebis for me to taste

Now, on to the cheese....

Another sublime discovery! The unpasteurized Camembert Brebis had a well balanced, earthy and mushroomy, mildly strong flavor that was both tangy and slightly salty. The aroma was sweet, grassy and soft and the texture was pure Camembert-creamy.

It was the best Camembert we've tasted in a long time. (and after the recently tasted, locally made Camembert Fermier, I never expected to find myself saying that)

Local, Minervois red wine was a perfect match as would wine from the Corbières.

The article also states that a recent census discovered that there are more than 1000 cheeses being produced in France. If that is true, I've got my work cut out for me! Pin It

Photo du Jour

The personalized cheese wrapping paper from my favorite Fromager in Béziers. Great little map of French cheese!

(enlarge the photo to read all the names) Pin It

May 5, 2008

Photo du Jour - La Vie En Rose

Aren't they beautiful? Pin It